As brands change hands, how much is a household name still worth?
Image: Onkyo and Protocol

As brands change hands, how much is a household name still worth?

Protocol Next Up

Good morning, and welcome to another Protocol Next Up. If this is your first, Next Up is a weekly newsletter about the future of technology and entertainment, from AR and VR to smart speakers and TVs, from companies trying to own the next big thing to regulators keeping an eye who's seizing control of the industry. Let me know what you think by emailing, and please forward it to your friends and colleagues if you like it!

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And now, some brand-spanking-new stories (pardon the pun) …

The Big Story

One Aiwa is not like the others

At CES this year, Amazon announced a new TCL sound bar with Fire TV built in. However, when I went to TCL's booth to check it out, nervous staffers were quick to tell me that TCL didn't actually make the device. Instead, it had licensed its brand to a separate company that was definitely, absolutely not TCL.

The problem: TCL also makes Android TVs, and Google doesn't like it when Android TV manufacturers build Fire TV products. That's why TCL's Fire TV sound bar is being built by Fortune Genesis Corp., a company that makes just a single product, was incorporated in the British Virgin Islands mere months before CES, and has a website that happens to share its server with Onkyo, a brand owned by TCL. Coincidence?

Welcome to the weird and wonderful world of consumer electronics brands, where things often aren't quite what they seem. Harman, Nokia, JVC, Motorola, Aiwa, Hitachi, Philips, Toshiba: Many of the brands that once led the industry for entertainment products have changed hands in recent years. Some companies market their products under multiple brands. Some brands are owned by multiple companies. So what does a brand even still stand for?

"There is still a place for brands," said Techsponential lead analyst Avi Greengart. There's a reason Lenovo relied on the Motorola brand for its foldable phone, he argued. Legacy brands can help companies cut through the clutter, remind them of long-held value propositions, and stand out on crowded marketplaces like Amazon.

Plus, there's the retro factor: "In some cases, it's a bit of a nostalgic play," Greengart said.

Aiwa is a prime example for the changing face of consumer electronics brands. Founded in 1951, Aiwa was long majority-owned by Sony. The company stopped using the Aiwa brand in 2006, leaving the global trademarks up for grabs.

These days, there are four Aiwas in different markets around the world. One of them is Aiwa Corp., a small Chicago-based maker of Bluetooth speakers and headphones, whose CEO, Joe Born, told me that owning the brand has been a mixed bag. Being Aiwa has definitely helped with name recognition, including when it comes to working with manufacturers. "There is power in the supply chain," he said.

However, Born also had to spend millions of dollars on securing the trademark in a number of markets, and actively fought against one of the other trademark holders. "It was a huge distraction," he said. Only this month, Born's company struck a deal with Japan's Aiwa to cooperate. "The goal is to unify under one brand," he told me.

A key challenge for legacy brands: The way we consume entertainment is changing. A decade ago, all we cared about was the sound of a stereo system, Greengart explained. These days, it's more important that it runs Spotify and has a voice assistant.

"Brands are evolving," Born agreed. However, he argued that this has always been the case. What makes a brand, Born told me, isn't simply marketing, but the values consumers associate with it. That's true whether the brand is being used by a small startup in Chicago, or a definitely very real company residing somewhere in the British Virgin Islands. Said Born: "A brand is owned by the consumers."


"It's a worrying combination." Mozilla researcher Becca Ricks on the boom of political ads on streaming services, which lack the kind of transparency tools used by Facebook & Co.

"Shocker. In the Journal's next story they will uncover gambling in Las Vegas." Amazon spokesperson Drew Herdener getting sassy in response to a WSJ story about the retailer restricting advertising from competing smart speaker makers.



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Watch Out

Making a DVR is hard. Will Amazon keep trying?

Amazon is scheduled to hold a press event Thursday, at which the company is widely expected to unveil new versions of its Echo speakers and Fire TV devices. One of the lesser-known gizmos I will keep an eye out for is the Fire TV Recast, a DVR that allows cord cutters to record free over-the-air television.

Amazon first launched the Recast in 2018, and it hasn't updated the device since. Thursday could be a pivotal moment for the product: Either Amazon doubles down and introduces a new version. Or it doesn't, which would pretty much spell an end to Amazon's DVR endeavours.

The idea behind Recast is smart: Cord cutters can supplement streaming services with free broadcast TV recordings from networks like ABC, CBS and PBS. And unlike olds-chool DVRs, Amazon's Recast doesn't need to be hooked up to the TV, but can instead be placed anywhere in your home, and stream recordings locally.

Amazon isn't the only company that has tried this:

  • Tablo and SiliconDust have been selling DVR hardware to cord cutters for years.
  • Dish subsidiary Sling TV just announced a new DVR dubbed the AirTV Anywhere.
  • Software makers like Plex and Channels have been offering DVR functionality as well.

Still, explaining and troubleshooting this new generation of DVRs can be challenging. And with a new streaming service launching seemingly every week, do people still really need more TV to watch?

Case in point: DVR pioneer Tivo is still selling recorders to cord cutters, but the company's latest and most heavily marketed device is a simple streaming adapter without any DVR functionality.

What will Amazon do? We might have to wait until Thursday's announcements to know for sure. However, I did notice on LinkedIn that a bunch of the folks who previously worked on Recast have moved on to other roles in the company, so I wouldn't hold my breath.

Fast Forward

On Protocol:Samsung TV Plus is coming to mobile phones. Samsung has long struggled to build media services with staying power. Now, it finally seems to have succeeded.

The next Chromecast will have a remote with a Netflix button. Google is scheduled to announce this device next week, but these latest leaked photos leave little to the imagination.

Sling TV launches watch parties. This makes Sling the first pay TV service to introduce co-viewing, with a major caveat: Non-subscribers will only be able to join watch parties for free until the end of the month.

Oculus Quest orders are already being delayed. So much for Facebook's plans to make enough VR headsets this time around: The Quest is supposed to start shipping on Oct. 13, but Facebook's Quest shop is already telling U.S. consumers to wait until November.

Roku has finally struck a deal with Peacock. NBC's streaming service is now available on Roku TVs and streaming devices. Next up: HBO Max?

On Protocol:Unity raised $1.3 billion with its IPO. The company was valued $20 billion after its first day of trading, and estimated in its S-1 that it can make $17 billion selling real-time tech to Hollywood and other non-gaming industries.

Voice assistants got a boost during lockdown. 46% of smart speaker owners recently told Adobe that they were using voice assistants more often during the first three months of COVID.

Quibi is already looking to sell itself. I'm sorry to inform you that every single joke about this story has already been made. Instead, how about a look at possible suitors?

Auf Wiedersehen

Remember not caring about things? In a world where everything matters so much all the time, blissful ignorance seems like a luxury of a bygone era. That's why it was so much fun to read a Twitter thread started by Freedom of the Press Foundation's Parker Higgins this week, where he asked his followers to tell him about things they've "managed to avoid even the most basic knowledge about despite having seen a million references to it." The answers included everything from "Star Wars" films ("I don't know what happens in them or what they're actually about beyond what the name of the franchise suggests") to "whatever a Dua Lipa might be." My personal favorite? "I have no clue which one is Bert and which one is Ernie." Go read the entire thread, add your own admissions of ignorance if you are so inclined — but please don't ruin it for me by telling me whoever this Elvis Costello guy may be!



Introducing the OneView Ad Platform. From Roku.

A single platform for marketers and content owners to reach more cord cutters and measure performance using TV identity data from the No. 1 TV streaming platform in the US. Advertisers can manage their entire campaigns – including OTT, linear TV, omnichannel, and more – all in one place.

Learn More

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